A Moldovan Odyssey – Filming in the age of Covid19

An electric bus, Chisinau, Moldova

Due diligence was done.
PCR tests 72 hours before leaving, lateral flows up until the morning of travel.
Not just me, all the crew.
All negative, repeatedly.
The Director & The Producer flew out the day before me to recce locations.
It would be my first time on a plane in 2 years, the longest period without flying in my adult life.

Stansted should have been an omen, the great unmasked making up a good 50% of the warm, virus-breeding meat bags moving through it.

It’ll be fine” I muttered behind my N95.

That became less & less convincing and my anxiety was starting to rise as I watched passenger after passenger getting on the Air Moldova plane:-
Completely unmasked and at least owning their blatant disregard for the rest of us or the far more cowardly, wearing a mask but with it barely covering their mouth or apparently in response to some as yet unknown pandemic of cold chin disease.
If you are going to have your contempt writ so large at least have the courage of your pathetic convictions.
50% of you clearly don’t give a fuck about anyone else then, great.

All the while the cabin crew said nothing.

Double vaxxed and now wearing a cotton mask over the top of my N95 I tried not to use bad language and sat quietly questioning what little faith I had left in humanity for the 2hr 30min flight.

Finally off the plane in Chisinau and in the client supplied transport to the hotel I told myself that after that flight the unmasked driver wasn’t a big problem as I wound down the window of the car.

I was checking in at the hotel (unmasked receptionist, in case you were wondering), looking forward to a pre-shoot meeting with the crew and a beer when the Producer appeared.
“We need to have a chat”

“The Director has tested positive this afternoon.
Shooting won’t be starting tomorrow.”

Er……I’m sorry WTF?

“I’m fine, don’t feel too bad” the Director said, between coughs, from the door of his hotel room as I stood a good 20ft away, still double masked.

Now I REALLY needed a beer.

Day 1 – after getting negative lateral flow test results, discussions were had via secure (ish) messaging platforms with crew holed up in our respective rooms and the client back in the UK.
The Producer, it turned out, was on the next available flight out of Dodge that evening, so on the ground at least it felt like we were on our own.

I couldn’t stray too far as I didn’t have a local sim card (no one thought they were going to be necessary?) so was reliant on the spotty at best hotel WiFi to keep up with the flurry of messages not least of which were the Director’s very polite food requests which were fulfilled by duly depositing them outside his door, knocking and then quickly retreating to a safe distance.

It was decided that we would all have to have another PCR test as the failure of the Director’s to pick up his infection had thrown all of our negative tests into question.
For whatever reason those couldn’t be arranged till the next day and even with the express service the results wouldn’t be back till late afternoon.
That would leave only 1 day to shoot out of what had been a planned 3 day shoot.

Solitary dining and beer in the hotel room then.

Day 2 – The clinic for my early morning appointment was just a few minutes walk from the hotel.
The receptionists not wearing masks did not inspire confidence (I’m looking at you Invitro Diagnostics #FFS), but at least the doctor who did my test was in full PPE or I’d have been out of there long before any swabbing took place.

I had a nice salad sat at an outdoor table at a cafe and visited the National Museum of History.
I was one of only 3 visitors in there.
The Gulag exhibition was particularly cheery.

The results came back, all negative, apart from the Director, whose result hardly needed confirming as you could hear him coughing from the hall and who informed me over messenger that he could now not taste the very strong coffee I’d left for him.

A solitary (no crew mixing, just in case) pizza in a nearby restaurant sat as far away from everyone and as close to the open window as possible and I was ready for bed.
Oh, and I may have had another beer or two.

Day 3 – The local translator (negative PCR the day before) and I met outside at the location, where I was told the subject only had 2 hours for socially distanced masked up filming.
Good job the shot list emailed over from the Director the night before wasn’t too long.
We were done in time for an early lunch.
Ridiculous.

I finished off the day with some wandering, taking a few photos and a particularly magical half hour at dusk in the Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity listening to some beautiful singing in the candle lit, elaborate gilded interior surrounded by beautifully painted religious frescos and unmasked worshippers.

And…..that was that.
Apart from of course…..

Day 4 -It did not feel right leaving the Director, who I have a huge respect and fondness for and regard as a friend.
By himself, in a foreign country, sick with Covid, self-isolating for a further 10 days at least. Fun.

But, what else could I do? Even if I stayed I could be of no help, save for leaving food outside his room twice a day.

So it was that I found myself heading for the airport, staring out at the post soviet apartment blocks that lined the road, studiously avoiding eye contact in the rearview mirror with the unmasked taxi driver.

I was NOT looking forward to the flight home.
The flight out had left me feeling slightly traumatized and given how the last few days had unfolded I was genuinely concerned I might really lose my temper with some weapons grade unmasked idiot on the plane.
At the Air Moldova check-in desk I lent over and calmly told the staff member that I was a BBC journalist (a little white lie) returning home and that my experience on the flight out meant that she really, really wanted to find me an empty row on this flight because my journalist colleagues back home would be only too happy to run a pretty damning story about the airlines mask enforcement if she didn’t.

It worked.

This time during boarding I watched from my otherwise empty emergency exit seat row as again 50% of the boarding passengers were either the “100% selfish dick and proud of it – no mask” or “wearing a mask but not properly and I know it but I’m too spineless to own my lack of respect or care for anyone else – chin warmer” variety of dickhead.
There was an announcement about mask wearing (a very slight improvement over the flight out, where there was no such announcement) but it might as well have been in Ancient Mesopotamian for all the attention that was paid to it.
The ignored announcement and my increased legroom didn’t really help but at least I didn’t have to sit seething next to one of the unmasked halfwits the whole flight.

Of all the flights I’ve ever taken I can’t honestly remember one I was glader to get off when it touched down.

I’ve traveled a fair bit since my early 20’s and whenever in a place I didn’t know I’d always just go to a bar and start talking to the most interesting or attractive person I could find, this way many great evenings & friendships were made.
The world feels different now in a way I really don’t like.
Go to a bar and sit inside in a badly ventilated room with a load of people whose vaccine status, level of care about masks and general awareness of mid-pandemic safety I don’t know?
No, I’ll pass thanks.
It feels like a great loss.

Despite the last 2 years, this trip has made me pretty certain that no amount of desperately needed income or desire to do what I love will get me back on a plane for a VERY long time.
Definitely not an Air Moldova plane ever again.
Not any airline unless they intend to actually enforce mask-wearing in say the same way as they do their no smoking policy.
(and yes I’m equating the two)

The pandemic as a whole, but this trip, in particular, has cemented a change, that I feel more than a little sad about, in my outlook on the rest of humanity.
B.C. (Before Covid) I always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, after all most people are generally nice, struggling souls in a way it felt like we all were.
I’d try very hard to at least give them a chance to disavow me of my belief in their inherent goodness.

Now, however, it feels as if the people I KNOW I’m not going to like or want to have anything to do with are much easier to spot.

It’s writ large all over their unmasked faces.

A gallery of a few phone photos – Chisinau, Moldova November 2021

*****UPDATES******
Daily lateral flow tests for 5 days post the trip all negative. Seems it’s safe to hug my 75 year old father again now then. No thanks at all to the 50% of wankers on the plane.

To clarify, my ranting about the no-mask idiots only applies to indoor spaces. Unlike most of them I’ve read the science.

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